What is Triclosan?
Triclosan is an antibacterial and anti-fungal compound that is added to various soaps, detergents, cosmetics, shampoos, household cleaning products, toothpastes, mouthwashes, and deodorants to inhibit the growth of bacteria. Triclosan is often added to other products you find around the house such as bedding, toys, clothes, furniture, cookware and utensils, trashbags, even socks to prevent the growth of bacteria, fungus, and mildew; it can also be found in products such as latex paints, fabrics, vinyl, caulking, carpeting, clothing, rubber, just to name a few, as a material preservative.
Why Should You Be Concerned?
Although the FDA does not currently consider triclosan to be hazardous to humans, there have been some studies that suggest otherwise; therefore the agency is currently reviewing data regarding the safety of this product.
Studies of the effects of triclosan on human subjects has potentially linked it to increased incidence of environmental and food allergies. Animal studies have suggested that triclosan exposure may lead to endocrine disruption and reduced hormone (thyroid and testosterone) levels.
The environmental impact of triclosan is a concern as well. Triclosan is released in waste water, even after passage through treatment facilities and can possibly be detrimental to algae populations and in turn, the population of aquatic organisms and animals that rely on that supply of algae for sustenance. And because triclosan is released to our ground water system, it is now often found in root vegetables and our drinking water supply.
Perhaps you have heard concerns about drug resistant strains of bacteria that have developed due to the widespread use of antibiotics. Concerns have also emerged that the overuse of triclosan may lead to bacteria that are resistant to antibacterial compounds, although there is currently conflicting information regarding this potential outcome and the role that long-term and high-dose exposure may play.
Interestingly, some research has proven that hand soaps containing triclosan are no more effective at removing bacteria than simply washing with regular soap and water. In fact, the FDA also does not consider triclosan to be more effective that washing with plain soap. However, the research at this time does show reduced incidence of gingivitis when comparing toothpaste containing triclosan with toothpaste that contains only fluoride.
How Can You Avoid Them?
At this time, there are conflicting reports as to the effect of triclosan on humans. Perhaps more importantly, information is lacking as to the effects of long-term triclosan exposure. If, as a consumer, you are concerned about your triclosan exposure, be sure to check product labels and purchase products that do not contain triclosan. Products that are labeled as “germ-killing” or “antibacterial” may contain triclosan, so pay special attention to these if you are trying to limit exposure. The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database (http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/) can be especially helpful in avoiding cosmetic that contain triclosan, or simply purchase organic products.